Who Is the Phillies’ Next Best Option After Ohtani?

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Philadelphia Phillies baseball team President of Baseball Operations David Dombrowski takes questions from the media after signing Aaron Nola to a new seven-year contract, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Philadelphia Phillies were not the ones to receive the final rose in the Baseball Bachelor as Shohei Ohtani joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was not a highly anticipated call that he would come to the City of Brotherly Love, but it’s the hope that kills you.

So what comes next?

There are plenty of needs for the Phillies during the offseason: finding more utility guys and bolstering the rotation. As the two key focuses, there are plenty of free agents still on the board for the taking. President of Baseball Operations David Dombrowski is a shrewd man. He knows what is needed. But with two massive contracts already on the books, they have to be calculated moves.

Also to keep in mind, the threshold for 2024 is $237 million. The Phillies’ payroll, after the $172M re-signing of Aaron Nola, is already right up against it.

While the roster appears to be pretty locked in for 2024, there are still places the Phillies could stand to shore up if they plan to make another deep October run.

UTL Whit Merrifield

Adding a utility player for the Phillies would be a wise move. The Toronto Blue Jays and Whit Merrifield both declined his $18 million mutual option for 2024, making the three-time All-Star a free agent. While it’s Toronto’s loss, it could be Philadelphia’s gain.

Merrifield was the only Toronto player named a Silver Slugger finalist in 2023 after batting .272 with 11 home runs, 67 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases in 145 games. He was also selected to the American League All-Star roster in 2023, making it his third appearance.

The 34-year-old has played 1,052 games between the Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals. His lifetime slash line is .284/.330/.420 with 90 homers, 470 RBIs, and 201 stolen bases. He can play outfield and that will be useful if Kyle Schwarber is going to be placed elsewhere (and he should. Outfield isn’t for him.)

CF/1B Cody Bellinger

Now this one is a HUGE longshot for the Phillies. Centerfielder and first baseman for the Chicago Cubs Cody Bellinger would be an ideal addition to the roster. While Philadelphia needs more right-handers, having the left-handed 28-year-old for production is not the worst idea.

Bellinger had a .307/.356/.525 slash line in 2023 and a resurgent season that massively benefitted the Cubs. His average exit velocity was down across the board, while his zone contact rate skyrocketed from 80.9 to 87.4 percent. He’s also got some nice hardware to his name, winning the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award and a Silver Slugger in 2023. 

His best position is center field, but he can give a manager flexibility. That’s extremely valuable, especially for a team like Philadelphia. They also do need a first baseman after the departure of Rhys Hoskins. While it isn’t the preferred spot for Bellinger, it’s a perk for Philly. Signing him to a long-term deal with be major dollars that the Phillies might not have but having someone who offers options is at least worth a look.

MLB Cody Bellinger Phillies trade target
Chicago Cubs’ Cody Bellinger, right, scores past Washington Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz, off Christopher Morel’s single during the second inning of a baseball game Monday, July 17, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

RHP Jordan Hicks

The Phillies rotation doesn’t need much help, although adding Yoshinobu Yamamoto would be a dream (hear all the dollar signs). But where they do need some assistance on the pitching side of the ball is in the bullpen. After the departure of Craig Kimbrel, there’s a small void that Philadelphia should explore.

Enter right-hander Jordan Hicks.

The 27-year-old was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays last year but had injuries derail his career. He’s one of the hardest throwers in the league, with career averages of 100.8 mph, 100.2 mph, and 91.6 mph on his four-seamer, sinker, and splitter, respectively.

In 65 2/3 innings, he pitched to a 3.29 ERA with a very strong 28.4% strikeout rate in a season split between the Blue Jays and St. Louis Cardinals. Hicks would want a three-year contract at the minimum, but it could be worth the investment for the Phillies bullpen in the future.